John Alter entered military service in 1960, completed the Aviation Officer Candidate program and received his “Wings of Gold” in April, 1961 at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, known in military circles as the cradle of Naval Aviation. Due to the possibility of military activity in the Viet Nam theater, and thus the need to begin building up a supply of Navy pilots, he was assigned to Whiting Field in Milton, Fl, where he spent a year as a flight instructor in the T-28-B “Trojan” aircraft.
He then received orders to VS-25 at North Island Naval Air Station near San Diego, Ca. He joined a squadron of about 35 pilots who flew the Gruman S-2E “Tracker,” a carrier-based, twin-engine plane with a crew of four. While attached to VS-25, Alter made two deployments to Viet Nam aboard USS Yorktown (CVS-10).
Their mission was coastal and maritime surveillance and interdiction, described by John as the water version of the Ho Chi Min Trail. (Interdiction requires intercepting and preventing enemy action whether by disrupting, delaying or destroying the enemy.) During his Viet Nam tours with VS-25, Alter became a Triple Centurion, the Navy’s way of saying he made more than 300 landings aboard an aircraft carrier as Pilot in Command. That meant he also survived the same number of catapult shots off the bow of Yorktown.
Aircraft carrier catapults are powered by either hydraulic or steam pressure, enabling the pilot to bring his plane up to flying speed before reaching the end of the flight deck. The expression “taken aback” comes to mind when I imagine how it must feel to be suddenly hurled into the sky at great force. Even so, landing on a carrier is far more difficult, requiring incredible skill; mistakes destroy airplanes and kill pilots and crewmen. John made more than 300 landings with no mistakes—day and night, rain or shine.
While deployed, John became qualified as Officer of the Deck aboard Yorktown while flying missions and completing whatever mandatory collateral duties he was assigned in his squadron. He also took advantage of opportunities to gain deployment experiences by transferring to destroyers and submarines that were part of his task force. He found this variety of missions to be interesting and beneficial shipboard experiences.
In July of 1966 he received orders to be an Assistant Professor of Naval Science at the ROTC unit at Villanova University in Villanova, Pa. near Philadelphia. At that time Villanova had the largest NROTC unit in the U.S. He taught terrestrial and celestial navigation as well as Naval Operations. All that shipboard experience on carriers, submarines and destroyers came in handy.
It was during the NROTC shore duty that he and Betty Ann decided to start a family. For that reason, and after more than eight years of duty, he decided a civilian career was preferable. By that time, he had enjoyed enough adventures to satisfy even an author like Zane Grey. But he didn’t really leave the Navy. He transferred to the Active Naval Reserve where he remained involved with various reserve units, becoming the Commanding Officer of the Navel Air Station’s Willow Grove Reserve Unit near Philadelphia, ending more than 30 years of military service in 1991.
Being the type of person who blooms where he is planted, John has also become a “mover and shaker” in Jackson County. He has won more accolades for his service to the state of Florida, Jackson County and in Bascom and Malone than I can list. His tree farm is a conservation model worthy of tours, and his property also boasts beef cattle, row crops and abundant wild life.
I asked him what he missed about his home state of Ohio, and he said he sometimes wondered what would have happened if he had returned to where the Alter family name was established in 1805 when the first John Alter rode into Zanesville to become a successful carpenter. Today ancestors with that last name enjoy the prestige of qualifying as one of the “First Families of Ohio.”
I can’t see that he’s missed anything. In Florida, he’s done everything but run for office, and if I had my way, he would do that, too.